Queer For Me
Read More: Queer
Like an increasing number of people, I identify not with the signifier ‘gay’ (which accurately describes my sexual orientation) but with the term ‘queer.’
I’ve heard from elders within the LGBTQ community that my use of this label may be problematic in the sense that it continues to trigger LGBTQ individuals against whom ‘queer’ was deployed as a pejorative. I’ve also heard from a wide variety of people — including my peers at the University of Richmond — that using the word ‘queer’ seems at best inadvisable and at worst just plain wrong even in cases where an individual self-identifies. As I do identify as queer, I wanted to take this opportunity to spell out why exactly I’ve decided to identify with a term so historically vilified.
In the end, I respect the term(s) any individual chooses to reflect the variety of their lived experiences, but here’s what queer means to me.
There is no doubt that queer was historically used as an insult — colloquial slang to be hurled at those one perceived to be LGBTQ. For scores of individuals from the 70s and 80s, queer brings back memories of widespread persecution for their gender and sexual identities within a society.
At the end of the 80s, however, many LGBTQ folks came to realize that they would not be able to bring adequate attention to the AIDS epidemic without changing their tactics. With the advent of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACTUP), LGBTQ folks began to identify with a more oppositional approach to address conservative unwillingness to publicize and respond to the AIDS epidemic. Using direct action and adopting the ideology of liberation rather than assimilation signaled a paradigm shift in the evolution of the LGBTQ social movement. It was at this point that some LGBTQ people came to use the term queer to self-identify, not — as some would say — in spite of the sufferings of their colleagues, but to appropriate ownership of the term ‘queer’. Appropriating ‘queer’ for their own terms served as a generative act, allowing queer people to build their own communities, systems, and histories.
In this light, then, queer is associated with an intensely liberationist approach to creating social change. Rather than seeking, for instance, rights-based reform à la same-sex marriage or the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), a liberationist seeks to redefine the dominant culture which presumes, enforces, and administers heterosexual romances.
Instead of seeking a seat at the table of establishment figures, then, a queer-identified activist operates under the assumption that the institution (the table itself) ought to be reformed. It is this language of queer liberation that enables a variety of individuals who identify with as a gender or sexual minority of some kind to claim the word queer for themselves as a sort of umbrella term inclusive of the entire LGBTQQIAA spectrum.
Hence, I reclaim the word queer — and all of its attached meanings, signifiers, and legacies — in the pursuit of a larger goal: the liberation of all people from the systems of oppression which characterizes life in the United States today. While in my personal life the use of the word queer refers most directly to the deployment of heterosexism, my duty as a queer person is to fight intersectionally for the liberation of all marginalized folks: communities of color, gender minorities, the differently-abled, low-income folks, and the undocumented.
Queer, for me, is a lifestyle — an orientation towards the world which does not simply encourage but which demands a social consciousness which seeks to undermine forces of exploitation and encourage the development of communities of power, creativity, and promise.
Erik Lampmann is a queer campus organizer at the University of Richmond studying political theory and French. He enjoys chill-wave, veggie food, and Magritte.
I for one won’t use it and believe the term plays directly into the hands of our Christofascist enemies.February 11, 2016
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